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Crowdsourcing campaign: Meet the mysterious soil life

With your help we will show you the living soil and its interaction with life above ground. We will make a time-lapse video capturing soil life in the dark, and at the same time plant growth in illuminated conditions aboveground.

We rarely reflect on the life beneath our feet. Let alone the diversity of animals, plants, fungi and microbes that live in soil. We are very dependent on soil life and need to treat it well. Soils are more lively and dynamic than people often think! That is if the soil is healthy, because soil health is generated by the activity of millions of interacting soil organisms. Through their activities of mineralising organic matter and suppressing diseases they support plant growth. Moreover they are needed for water purification and act as a source of new antibiotics.

Soil organisms are hard to see because they are small, live hidden in the ground and often move slowly through the soil. This makes it difficult to show students and the general public how soil life acts and how it drives essential soil functions.

With this project researcher Gerlinde De Deyn and colleagues Ingrid Lubbers and Jan-Willem van Groenigen team up with artist and photographer Wim van Egmond to capture soil life in action on video. To make this possible they must create a construction in which flash photograph of an unexposed soil profile can be made while the above-ground parts of plants receive enough light to grow.

Time-lapse recordings make the activity of soil organisms, including plant roots growing visible. The accelerated rendering in combination with high magnification ensures that even individual micro-organisms can be seen. For a two-minute film 3000 photographs in high resolution are needed.

The film will be used for education, scientific presentations and other information activities to raise awareness about soil life. We expect that the video will be viewed worldwide just like our previous film 'Bioturbation: worms at work'.

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